Reflections from Abroad: Sarah Olson, YAGM

Date posted: Wednesday 11 May 2016

Sarah Olson is serving her YAGM year in South Africa. Olson names her faith homes as Concordia College, Moorhead and Peace Reformed Church, Eagan.


Greetings from South Africa!

Sarah-Olson-YAGMSince September, I have been living in the village of Tshifulanani in northern South Africa, serving at both a local primary school and non-profit organization.


My volunteer placement at Muthundinne Primary School in the nearby village of Mapate has morphed and changed as the year has continued, and I think I’ve found a great fit in my current role as Creative Arts teacher, and general assistant to other classes. The students I am privileged to work with keep bringing me joy in new ways, and getting to know them better as the year goes on is a gift. I love working mostly with the seventh graders; like the other grades they are rambunctious and enthusiastic in doing creative arts projects, but they are also on the path to growing into young adulthood, and it’s exciting to engage with them at this point in their lives. I love to see them coming into their own in art classes; when the boys volunteer to do a dance exercise they’ve been working on, or when a student gets excited to sing for the others. One memory that will stick with me was the time that a seventh grader named Wanani walked in before class began with half a small squash from his lunch. A classmate asked for some of it, and he split it in half and handed them half of it. Then another student requested some, and he split it in half again. The amazing thing to me was that they weren’t students that were his friends or that I had ever seen him even talk to, but he was giving so much of his snack to them. He continued halving and giving until he had just a small piece left for himself. I was touched by his generosity and felt lucky to have witnessed his kindness.


I’ve also been greatly enjoying my work with the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Project, a local NGO. As part of my work, I accompany the Girls’ Club facilitators to a local secondary school for weekly sessions. The sessions range in topics from sexual violence and domestic abuse, to safety and security issues, to self-esteem and body image. It’s very cool to see what the girls have already picked up; I haven’t known them for long, but so many of them are passionate leaders and incredibly confident, now armed with knowledge about the importance of speaking out against abuse and mistreatment, and fully aware of the difference they can make in their environments as empowered young people.


Through school and TVEP and the Lutheran Church, I feel blessed to witness the great work that is happening in South Africa, and to accompany those who are working for change. Sometimes I feel adrift when I question whether what I myself am doing is making a difference, but my purpose here isn’t to change as many lives as possible, but to build relationships and be a witness to those who are doing life-changing work in their own communities. There are amazing things happening in South Africa, and I am blessed to walk alongside those working for change.


The ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission has called six young adults from the Saint Paul Area Synod to serve a year abroad in a variety of countries, doing congregational ministry, human rights work, development projects, healthcare, education, and youth work. More about YAGM can be found at